What is a state?

What is state capacity?

What is a failed state?

What is a State?

  • Definition: A set of institutions that possesses the exclusive legitimate authority to make and coercively enforce laws that are binding on the population within a given territory

  • What do we mean by institutions, and how do these institutions help to ‘coercively enforce’ a country’s laws?


  • Chief functions

    • make laws
    • check the power of executive and bureaucracies
  • Two types

    • unicameral = one house
    • bicameral = two houses, typically an upper and a lower


Chief functions: 1) adjudicating civil and criminal cases; 2) judicial review. Power varies greatly from country to country


Chief functions: 1) devise and execute law; 2) head of military. Important distinction: head of state vs. head of government.


Chief functions: 1) protect country from external threats; 2) maintain law and order. Extent of military intervention varies with regime type.


Chief function: maintain law and order. Police are the means through which the state exercises its exclusive legitimate authority.

Devolution of Authority

  • Three levels of state power

    • National (federal)
    • Regional (state or provincial)
    • Local
  • Federalism: A system in which regional legislatures, executives (governors), judiciaries and police have substantial authority to make, review and enforce their own laws

Legitimate Authority

  • Legitimacy: the extent to which the population accepts the authority of the state

  • Three main types of legitimacy

    • Traditional
    • Charismatic
    • Rational-legal

What is State Capacity?

  • Scope: the reach of the state; the extent of state regulation and intervention in the lives of its citizens

  • Strength: the ability of the state to perform its most basic functions, i.e. to enforce the law it generates

State Fragility/Failure

  • State fragility refers to a loss of capacity or legitimacy that leaves citizens vulnerable to calamity

  • State failure refers to a loss of capacity or legitimacy to the extent that the state can no longer perform its most basic functions

Fragile States Index